While every business is different, there are some basic business cultures that just about every company exhibits. Most companies will fit into at least one or two of the archetypes of business, whether those categories be control, collaborate, compete, or create. While some might think that one culture can be better than another, there’s actually a way to make any culture work. Just like personalities, company cultures are not static and there is a way to adjust any company culture to make it better.
While there have been various studies done on specific types of organizational culture, the culture is always based on the values, vision, and behaviors that the company embraces to reach its goals.[1. “Four Organizational Culture Types,” http://www.canfieldco.com/uploads/Four_Organizational_Culture_Types.pdf] Broken down to its most basic form, most organizational cultures can be described by one or more of the four following categories.
While each of these corporate cultures have some strong positive aspects, they can also become crippled by their own fatal flaws.
Every strength has a flip side that is a weakness. When company cultures are inflexible absolutes, these weaknesses can cause a lack of efficiency, innovation, morale, or direction. Each culture has a major shortcoming that leaders need to be aware of.
While each of these organizations has a fatal flaw, implementing ideas from the opposite end of the spectrum can resolve any major issues.
While it might sound extreme, sometimes the best way to solve an issue that comes from a certain culture is to go to the exact opposite end of the spectrum. For example, the lack of innovation that comes from a control environment can often be solved by implementing certain key points from a create environment.
The company 3M is an excellent case study in this area.[2. “At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity,” June 10, 2007, http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/2007-06-10/at-3m-a-struggle-between-efficiency-and-creativity] This multinational conglomerate went through some major changes in 2001, when Six Sigma follower and former GM executive Jack McNerney took over. Under his leadership, the company took on a strict control culture, with a fixed leadership, stringent performance reviews, and multiple process-driven techniques designed to increase efficiency. It worked and 3M’s stock price rebounded after McNerney brought the company in line.
Flash forward to four years into this new leadership, and 3M had to face a major problem. The innovative company that brought people items like Post-it notes, masking tape, and Thinsulate was no longer an innovative leader. While efficient, their strict processes were severely hampering the development of new products.
So when new CEO George Buckley came on board, he loosened the corporate structure on the research and development department, instead implementing ideas from a create environment, where risk taking and waste is expected. He allowed higher expenditures on acquisitions and more free time for coming up with ideas, taking the attitude that out of 5,000 ideas, often only one will prove fruitful in the marketplace. He understood that risk and waste are a necessary part of creation.
Slightly changing the structure of one sector of the company—their research and development—and pulling it away from a control environment to a create one, allowed 3M to maintain their efficiency, while also giving their researchers room to innovate. By 2011, 31% of 3Ms revenue was coming from new products, up a whopping 10% from 2006. It won 2,400 patents and launched 1,300 products in 2010 alone.[3. “Heartland Tech Titan,” http://www.barrons.com/articles/SB50001424052970204395804576162513319109354]
When a corporate culture isn’t working, it’s often not a case where you need to scrap the whole culture. In the case of 3M, their control structure did have its benefits. It increased efficiency and eliminated wasted time and resources. When the new CEO came on board, he recognized the need for a control environment in such a large organization, but he also recognized the need for aspects of a create environment in certain areas.
Any business dealing with common issues in their company culture can take a look at aspects from an opposite culture to see where their problems can be fixed. If morale is low and turnover is high in a compete environment, then implementing team building ideas from a collaborate environment can improve it. Collaborate environments that aren’t producing can find that a little competition among staff is healthy. Chaotic create environments can add a some structure to their leadership in order to make them more efficient, and control environments can allow a little more wiggle room in structure to encourage creativity. Absolutes in business are never a good thing. The most successful company cultures are the ones that straddle the line between a few different environments, and are dynamic enough to change approaches to adapt to internal or external changes. While a company’s mission and vision should be a fairly unchanging foundation, its company environment should respond to evolving industry trends and market requirements, for instance, or to generational shifts in personnel with corporate environments best suited to their particular needs and ultimate success.
Organizational culture doesn’t have to be strict and static. Companies can use a dominant one, while implementing ideas from another in order to improve their efficiency, creativity, employee morale, and more. The key to this is recognizing the drawbacks of your own corporate culture and determining what can be improved.
At Applied Vision Works, we’ve identified 15 culture principles that will help leaders manage their company culture though our Culture Connection Program. Contact us today to see how we can help you make your organizational culture one that is embraced and supported by all your employees.